Abbildungen der Seite



quacking chat and a game of romps, till evening flight time comes

, again, when they are all off in a body, to look for their suppers as usual. This, it is to be remembered, is the life of a “gentleman ” duck, who lives in a fine preserve. The poor vagabond duck, who

, has no regular home, does not fare nearly so well.

The ducks are well worth being watched on their feeding grounds. The observer must take the greatest pains to conceal himself, and should therefore make himself as small as possible, and take his position by the side of a clump of grass, an old stump of a tree, or some object with which the ducks are familiar. Before the ducks alight, the rustle of their wings can be heard in the air as they fly round and round overhead, examining every yard of the ground, to see that no danger is nigh. As the various flights are seen coming from the loch, it will be observed that they do not fly in a regular V shape, like geese, but more in parallel rows; they generally have a leader, who flies a little in advance of the rest. Nothing can be more inspiriting to the ear of the sportsman than to be lying out in ambush on a fine dark night, when it is not too cold, and to listen to the various wild sounds around him; he will recognize the hoarse call of the mallard, and the softer replying quack of the duck, voices as different from each other as those of a primo basso and a prima donna. He will hear the wild inimitable whistle of the widgeon, the lesser cry of the teal, with every now and then the scream of the loot, or moor-hen, and the shrill piping note of the curlew passing overhead : these various cries form a natural concert of music, most grateful to the ear of the sportsman, and the lover of Nature in her wildest moods.

As the partridge is the natural wild bird that inhabits the dry arable and pasture land of this country, and as the grouse is found in heather-bearing countries, so the duck is the bird that seems to occupy a similar position in the mud-flat estuaries of rivers, &c. In almost every part of the world where there is a suitable place

[ocr errors]


for ducks, there do we find them; and they procure their food by sifting with their curiously-formed bills the minute creatures out of the mud. It is very remarkable how the food of the bird affects the flesh. The “London-fed ” ducks are hardly eatable, and they differ widely from the wild duck, who gets his living from the riverwashed mud of an unctuous soil. A cross between the wild and tame duck makes a good variety, pretty and ornamental to look at, and excellent for the table. The nearer the sea, the more the duck tastes of fish; and ducks shot out at sea are so

fishy” that they cannot be eaten at all. Ducks that live by clear streams, or moorlands watered by mountain burns, such as we find in Scotland, are thin and miserable creatures. If the reader have a choice of ducks in the market, let him always prefer the pin-tailed duck, so called because he has two long feathers projecting from his tail. Both on this account, and also because he is such excellent eating, he is called the “sea-pheasant:” they are found plentifully in Ireland. Although Ireland may be called the paradise of ducks, there are fewer strange varieties found there than anywhere else; and, odd though it may seem, there are more rare and curious specimens of the duck family killed in the neighbourhood of London than elsewhere.


MR. YARRELL in his account of the wild duck, has given a description of the decoy, that most ingenious method of taking wild fowl, accompanied with two illustrations taken from the 'Penny Magazine’for February, 1835. But the most detailed and interesting account of the complicated structure and management of the decoy, is that found in the Rev. R. Lubbock's Fauna of Norfolk,'

[ocr errors]
[graphic][graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]

to which reference has been made in various works on ornithology. He was not satisfied with former sketches, and had two drawings made for his work, and taken, on the spot, from Ranworth decoy. They are given here, reduced in size.

The decoy is formed of several pipes (or tapering ditches), dug from the main water, and closing at the end with funnel nets. It is usually situated in a marsh, well sheltered on all sides by trees and cover, and remote from all noise and disturbance. The pipes have a depth of sixteen or eighteen inches of water in them ; and become narrower from the first entrance. They are covered with a continued arch of netting, suspended on hoops.

The pipes are disposed in various semicircular directions, so as to suit various winds, as the fowl mostly swim against the wind, and always collect on the lee side of the water. The decoy has been compared to a gigantic spider with extended legs: no unapt similitude, in more views of the matter than one.

Screens, about five feet and a half high, made of reeds, are placed, at regular distances, along each pipe. Behind these the decoy-man conceals himself till the birds are advanced sufficiently up the pipe for him to show himself at one of the openings, so as to alarm them to press further up the pipe. He then appears at the next opening, thus driving the fowl up, till they at length enter the funnel net, and are secured. Decoy ducks and dogs are trained to assist in the work of destruction by alluring and attracting the wild fowl.

The common wild duck, the widgeon, and the teal, furnish the main supply of fowl captured in this manner. Pochards are more frequently found in decoys than any other marine ducks; but, from their great shyness, they often alarm the other birds, and are, therefore, unwelcome visitors to the fowler.

The decoys of Lincolnshire have for ages been celebrated ; and several are still worked in that county, where “the science--for

« ZurückWeiter »